The Interns Meet with the Acting Integrity Commissioner

This past week we had the pleasure of meeting Lynn Morrison, Acting Integrity Commissioner for the Ontario public service. Ms. Morrison was helpful in detailing the nature of her work and the various responsibilities that the Office of the Integrity Commissioner assumes.  This encompasses a diverse range of roles, including but not exclusive to MMP integrity, expenses review and accountability and lobbyist registration. To this end, Ms. Morrison was able to give us a comprehensive understanding of the mechanicisms that she and her colleagues have implemented to create a culture of accountability, transparency and openness within the public sector.

Ms. Morrison’s in-depth knowledge about her work was best exemplified with the quality of her responses to our many questions. She was able to provide us a brief but thorough education about the challenges she faces as Commissioner, as well as a broad idea of the kinds of cases she deals with. We left our meeting with a greater sense of appreciation of the Commissioner’s duties, particularly given the level of tact and discretion that is necessary in her line of work. We would like to thank Ms. Morrison for speaking with us, and her enlightening insights into her profession.

Former Speaker David Warner

In the intern office there’s a poster made by last year’s group plastered with photos of them with the ‘whose who’ of politics. The caption, a spin-off of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” reads “Oh, the People You’ll Meet…” I was warned. I was told. I even studied the poster. But for some reason, I thought the meetings would start slowly, trickle in at best. However, in just our first week and a half at Queen’s Park, with blisters and security passes to prove it, we’ve already crossed paths with some of the brightest crafters, actors, and behind the scenes figures of provincial politics.

One in particular stuck with me, former Speaker of the House under Bob Rae’s 1990-95 government, David William Warner. In a meeting that lasted just over an hour, Mr. Warner, a now retired teacher, highlighted the importance of imagination and sense of humour in politics. In his own words, “You are only limited by time and imagination.” His career in the legislature, and the projects he undertook as Speaker, most notably initiating a number reading programs, both at Queen’s Park and abroad, illustrate that the role of the politician goes beyond ‘politicking’ and starts at the grass-roots level. Most compelling, was the seriousness with which he undertook the role of speaker, as a non-partisan ‘referee’ both inside and outside of the Chamber. Often politicians are seen as brute partisan movers and pushers. However, Mr. Warner’s actions as Speaker and afterthoughts as a retired teacher suggest that partisan ties can (and must be) dulled when it comes to ensuring a functioning and effective government. It comes as no surprise that he was the first speaker ever to be elected by the legislature.

Toronto Star Journalists meet with the interns

The meeting with Rob Benzie and Jim Coyle was most enjoyable. Never having met a journalist before, I was excited, eager and not quite sure what to expect. Articulate and quick-witted, they did not disappoint and never ceased to hold our interest. As Queen’s Park columnists for the Toronto Star, they proved to have a wealth of knowledge of the Park, as well as some interesting and humorous stories. Having been in the business for years, Mr. Coyle regaled us with tales of the archaic “old boys club” culture that once characterized Queen’s Park, and how dramatically different it was compared to the current state of affairs. Particularly, the significant increase in partisan politics.

Mr. Benzie and Mr. Coyle also provided insights into the changing nature of journalism, and how shorter articles with greater simplicity and easier readability have replaced detailed in-depth political coverage, for better or for worse. All the interns were eager to ask questions, particularly curious as to what Mr. Coyle and Mr. Benzie believed their roles in the political process to be. One memorable designation they gave themselves was the “bullshit detectors” for Ontarians, calling out MPPs for any nonsense or half-truths they might put forward to the public. Laid back and very personable, Mr. Benzie and Mr. Coyle were certainly people I hope to run into in the future, and they assured us we would.

Meeting CIBC’s Rod Cumming

On September 16th, the OLIP interns had the pleasure of meeting Rod Cumming, Senior Director, Communications and Public Affairs at CIBC.  Apart from his position at CIBC, we learnt that Mr. Cumming was a former OLIP intern himself.  I found this quite interesting, as it’s always nice to see where interns went after their time at Queen’s Park.  Throughout our meeting, Mr. Cumming, who was quite friendly and easy to talk to, spoke to us about his role in public relations and dished out some advice for any of us considering a future in public relations, such as myself.  Mr. Cumming described the world of public relations as being fast paced and constantly changing, leaving every day different from the previous.  He also explained what it takes to be successful in the field, stating that it required good judgment, great writing skills and recommended that we take the time to find a particular focus area that interested us as public relations is a very diverse field.  Mr. Cumming also stressed that his experience at Queen’s Park left him prepared for a role in public relations, suggesting that his background in politics was quite valuable.  Overall, Mr. Cumming gave us insight into a very important field, and gave us a glance at what our futures after OLIP may look like.

Interns attend Question Period

Tuesday morning the interns had the pleasure of sitting in on Question Period (QP).  Although having seeing QP many times before on television, seeing it live is a completely different experience.  Television cameras and microphones do not pick up all that occurs in the Chamber, thus sitting in the public galleries allows one to hear and witness QP in all its glory.  We decided to sit facing the Opposition which afforded us the best position to hear the calls and shouts coming from the Conservatives and New Democrats.  As we took our seats I found myself looking around the beautiful Chamber staring at the craftsmanship of workers from the 19th century and couldn’t help but be amazed with its ornate quality.  As QP began the leader of the Opposition rose and began asking the Premier tough questions about the Government’s actions over the summer.  Premier McGuinty rose and in a soft and monotonal voice responded to the questions.  All of the interns strained to hear his responses and figured that maybe because he was facing the other way we couldn’t hear him very well.  As it turned out, and according to a columnist from a Toronto newspaper, this is McGuinty’s method of attempting to calm the Opposition and ensure that they do not get a rise out of him.  We listened to the back and forth questions and I was intrigued and amazed with the cheers and jeers emanating from members on both sides of the Chamber.  As we sat there listening to the debate I and a few of my colleagues witnessed some members staring up at as probably wondering who we were and why we all left in unison.  I guess ten young adults walking around together is something hard to miss, and I’m sure that the word intern must be tattooed on our heads because everyone knows who we are, or at the very least has an idea.  This is because OLIP has a long and distinguished career at Queen’s Park, and my fellow interns and I are looking forward to carrying on the tradition of excellence laid down by our predecessors.

Interns attend their first reception as Interns

If the first week with OLIP taught us anything, enhanced feeling of confidence is definitely one of the things on the list. I walked into the Professional Engineers Reception with certainty as opposed to anxiety as it was the case during the Intern’s May Reception. All of us were able to approach someone new and not look anxiously for other sticking out young interns. Only in less than 30 minutes, I was able to meet three different persons including a staffer from Randy Hillier office; Howard Brown from Brown & Cohen Communications and Public Affairs and Subhi Alsayed – a senior engineer in Etobicoke Chapter. It was the latter who gave me a chance to practice once more introducing and describing our programme.

I noticed that once you start meeting people there is often some commonalities to be found, be it an ethnic background or a passion for French language. Once they come up the connection is effortlessly made. These commonalities are not always lying right on the surface. It is an art to dig them out and I have already met some artists who were able to transfer a five-minute conversation straight into my long-term memory. If I took out anything from the PEO Reception, it is the desire to master this art.

Meeting with LAWPro

This past week we had a full schedule of meeting interesting people across a diverse range of professional fields. One incredibly informative meeting was with Kathleen Waters, President and CEO of the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (LAWPRO), a Canadian insurance company and subsidiary of the Law Society of Upper Canada, as well as an OLIP sponsor.

Ms. Waters briefly delved into LAWPRO’s scope of work and responsibilities, including the ins and outs of handling malpractice insurance for Ontario lawyers, and the creation and development of TitlePLUS, the organization’s title insurance program. Ms. Waters’ explanation of LAWPRO’s connection to Queen’s Park was of particular relevance to us. She detailed the organization’s efforts to help shape public policy in order to prevent real estate fraud within the province.  This gave us a specific example of how an organization works to impact legislation for the betterment of society. Ms. Waters’ insight into her profession was certainly a rare treat that rounded out a very educational week.

Meeting Ted Wigdor of the Certified General Accountants of Ontario

The second week of our internship was kicked off by a meeting with one of our sponsors. Ted Wigdor of the Certified General Accountants provided a great session on how to become comfortable in our roles as interns. He spoke frankly about the challenges we will face as new arrivals to Queen’s Park, but encouraged us to persevere in our personal goals, whatever they may be. Additionally, we were given insights into the legislative process through the eyes of a stakeholder. The most important issues were to demonstrate why an issue is in the public interest, to understand how the governmental process truly works, and lastly the maintenance of a non-partisan position. The interns learned great tips about the importance of networking, and the crucial act of ‘following-up’ on successful meetings in order to be truly effective.

Ted Wigdor’s meeting was the first in a series of meetings this past week, many of which provided insights into how private groups and associations may work at arms length of government, but still strive to change policy. However, one of the most important things Mr. Wigdor provided us was a face and a name to attach to the individuals and groups that make our year possible. The Ontario Legislature Internship Program would not be possible without our sponsors, and the opportunity to meet and learn from them is an additional benefit for all of the interns. Speaking on behalf of all of my fellow interns, I would like to thank Ted Wigdor for making us so comfortable in our first meeting, and starting off our year on the right foot.

Interns learn the role consultants play in policy making

On Wednesday September 16, we had the pleasure of meeting with Paul Macmillan, a consultant and national public sector industry leader at Deloitte. Before that morning, I had only vague notions of what a consultant was, or what a consultant’s role in either the public or private sector was. I was surprised to learn that consulting indeed plays a valuable role in scrutinizing and evaluating policy initiatives before and after their implementation as well as in operational review of vital institutions in our communities, such as school boards. Hearing Mr. Macmillan’s thoughts on the complexities of value-money auditing was of particular relevance, given the recent focus on the expenditure issues concerning the OLG. Mr. Macmillan certainly opened my eyes to the role that consulting plays in bridging the public and private sector and that even though an organization is for profit, it can still serve the public good.

Interns learn how to use Queen’s Park tools for researching

On September 15, the interns met with Susanne Hynes, a research librarian at the Legislative Library. Susanne patiently listened to our many issues that we’ve all dealt with in our past as stressed students, anxiously searching for research material at our respective university libraries. She quelled our fears about the massive library at Queen’s Park by sharing with us that most of the work required on behalf of members is, in fact, completed by library professionals and not the interns themselves. In addition, Susanne taught us how to navigate the legislature’s intranet, including such pertinent tools such as using the Issue Binder, searching newspapers by riding, and exploring the press clippings. Both energetic and inspiring, Susanne guided us through the numerous resources available on the Ontario legislature website. Through each session with the library staff, the interns are learning more and more about the fantastic and wide-ranging services offered by both the legislative library and the research team. We look forward to utilizing all of them once we’re placed with the MPPs!